How to Argue Like a Pigeon: A Review of Greg Koukl’s Tactics

I’ve often heard it said that arguing with a Christian is like playing chess with a pigeon: You could be the greatest player in the world, but the pigeon will still knock over all the pieces, crap on the board, and strut around triumphantly.

If you want to be that pigeon, Tactics may be the book for you.

The first thing the reader may notice about Tactics is that the author does not provide any reputable sources for his claims whatsoever. Greg Koukl relies solely on his own opinions, personal anecdotes (all of which conspicuously attempt to paint Koukl in the best possible light), and Bible verses–all of which are taken out of context and misappropriated to meet Koukl’s purposes. The fact that Koukl does not even attempt to substantiate his claims with actual data ought to make every reader suspicious.

Even more disturbingly, Koukl openly advocates employing logical fallacies. For example, he devotes an entire chapter to recommending shifting the burden of proof–a fallacy that will be immediately identified if you happen to be talking with anyone who understands the basics of logic. Moreover, Koukl advocates confirmation bias by immediately assuming that his particular version of Christianity is the correct position without providing any evidence for it and never taking the possibility that he might be wrong into consideration.

Koukl’s blatant disregard for the rules of logic know no bounds. He repeatedly sets up straw men, equivocates, employs arguments from authority, employs arguments from ignorance, and makes all kinds of non sequitur arguments far too numerous to list in this short review. Perhaps worst of all is Koukl’s straw man definition of atheism: “Atheism is a physicalist system that does not have the resources to explain a universe thick with nonphysical things like moral obligations” (p. 139). Is this how any self-identified atheist defines atheism? Or are they more likely to define it as “disbelief in gods”? Predictably, Koukl goes on to make the tired non sequitur accusation that atheism leads to millions of deaths: “You’ll find that carnage of unimaginable proportions resulted not from religion, but from institutionalized atheism” (p. 177).

Trot out either of these tired accusations to any self-identified atheist, and you will be met with a firm facepalm–if you’re lucky. Philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris, to name just one example, thoroughly addressed how atheists can have objective morality without appealing to supernatural forces in The Moral Landscape. At the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival, Harris briefly addressed what he called “the most frequent objection” of atheism–the accusation that atheism leads to millions of deaths–by stating, “It’s amazing how many people think the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot are the result of atheism. The truth is that this is misconstrued from the psychological and social forces that allowed people to follow their leaders into the brink. The problem with fascism and communism is not that they are too critical of religion. The problem is that they are too much like religion. They are utterly dogmatic systems of thought.”

The most hilarious example of Koukl’s persistent confirmation bias, blithe disregard for logic, and total lack of self-awareness can be found on in a chapter titled “Suicide: Views that Self-Destruct.” He cites a tabloid headline that reads “Woman gives birth to her own father” as an example of a view that is “self-refuting” (p. 107). If Koukl believes the popular Christian notion that Jesus is both God and the son of God, then Koukl also believes that a woman gave birth to a man who is his own father. By Koukl’s own standards, Christianity is self-refuting and obviously false.

There are ways to have sincere, productive conversations about faith, but none of them can be found in Greg Koukl’s Tactics. It is abundantly clear that Koukl is more interested in winning than listening, and he expects his readers to adopt his own smug, close-minded attitude. Your time will be much better spent taking a few moments to read Austin Cline’s brief article, “How to Talk to, Debate Atheists: Ways Religious Theists can Avoid Common Errors,” which can be found for free on the Internet.

But if you stick with Greg Koukl instead, you will end up looking like that proverbial pigeon on the chessboard. With that analogy in mind, perhaps it’s appropriate that Koukl used a chessboard as the icon for his execrable method of rhetoric.

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